The Hebrides Overture, Fingal's Cave, Op. 26

THE HEBRIDES (or FINGAL’S CAVE) was composed in 1830 under the impression of a sea voyage of the composer along the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides. There, on the uninhabited Isle of Staffa, he visited the famous cave bearing the name of the giant Fingal (‘The White Stranger’), a character from Celtic epic. In this space of enormous dimensions, covered with hexagonal black basalt pillars and a vaulted ceiling, there are incredible acoustics and the roar of the waves echoes inside like in a cathedral. In Gaelic, the cave’s name – Uamh-Binn – means ‘cave of melodies’. The extraordinary natural phenomenon is also reflected in the poetry of William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson and John Keats, in the novels of Jules Verne and Walter Scott, in a painting by William Turner and others.

Mendelssohn’s feeling was so strong that during his trip he sent a postcard to his sister Fanny Mendelssohn with the opening notes of the future overture – “…so that you may know how much the Hebrides impressed me, I send you what has come into my mind here.”

The overture, dedicated to Prince Frederick William IV, the future King of Prussia, was completed on 16 December 1830 and was originally entitled To the Lonely Island. Mendelssohn then made a new revision, and changed the title to The Hebrides. It was premiered in this form on 14 May 1832 in London under the baton of Thomas Atwood, together with his other famous overture, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in January 1833 it was performed in Berlin under the composer’s baton. But when the score was published by Breitkopf & Hertel in 1834, the overture was titled Fingal’s Cave, and so both titles of Mendelssohn’s picturesque tone poem survived.

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